I wish Austin would stop building mega shops at critical intersections.
In this particular case I really don’t think H-E-B had any other options. There simply aren’t any other parcels of land of similar size anywhere else in '04 that could be repurposed as a store both large enough to meet the area’s needs, and sufficient to incorporate the (unfortunately) necessary number of parking spots – and note that they’re planning on digging down deeply enough to incorporate two full sublevels of it. (I also think it’s stating the obvious that there’s no realistic way to permanently eliminate the last centrally located grocery store standing in such a heavily populated area.)
Moreover, as the Statesman article notes, the whole reason H-E-B ended up not using the original Twin Oaks site catty-corner to it is because ingress/egress would’ve been so problematic for anyone heading into it from north of Oltorf – meaning a large majority of the area’s residents, factoring in the ones from Zilker and Bouldin entering mostly via Oltorf, along with Travis Heights folks coming down via S. Congress. All of them would’ve had to make left turns into the Twin Oaks site – either from southbound S. Congress, which was always a nightmare considering how much traffic it gets, or via left turn from Oltorf onto northbound S. Congress, which is often backed up even without a megastore on the corner – and I can easily see why that would’ve been hugely problematic.
Also, I think the downtown Whole Foods has handled its largely similar ingress/egress issues remarkably well, particularly considering its location at one of the most heavily trafficked intersections in the entire city (spanning an entire downtown block, no less!). If anything I’m hoping the new store will end up improving the current situation, which routinely involves backups along both S. Congress and Oltorf anytime the parking lot is full or nearly so. Channeling vehicle traffic directly into the parking garage, like Whole Foods does, will largely eliminate that problem, albeit at the cost of adding substantially more parking capacity on whole.
Where will all those people shop once the HEB is gone?
This is admittedly the massive downside to bulldozing the existing store and rebuilding a new one on the same site. The current store is far too small as it is today, and the planned temporary location in the old Eckerd/CVS drugstore at Twin Oaks is almost two-thirds smaller! (Also, all the aforementioned left-turn issues will be unavoidable for it.) At least for car-owning residents in the area, I suspect they’ll end up having to do much of their grocery shopping elsewhere, e.g. the Walmart, Target and Randalls on both sides of Ben White, as well as the Central Market just south of it. The new-ish Wheatsville across from Brodie Oaks is an option as well, as is online grocery delivery.
That said, none of the above options is a one-size-fits-all solution: Walmart & Target have abysmal produce; Central Market (like Whole Foods) doesn’t sell many staples such as “normal” laundry detergent or even most varieties of soda (aside from “gourmet” options like Mexican Coke); and Randalls remains as ridiculously expensive as ever, the core reason why it’s down to only a handful of remaining stores (I’m frankly amazed the one on Ben White is still there). Even in Houston, its home market – and where it broadly dominated the grocery scene less than 20 years ago – H-E-B’s entrance has effectively forced most of them out of business, along with many of its Kroger stores.
Still, it’s not without irony that I’d point out much of the '04 ZIP code will qualify as a food desert until the new store is complete, given the repeated (and, at the time, false) assertions of a since-booted listserv poster who insisted this was the case. (I’m taking it as a given that the temporary store will have a produce department a fraction of the current store’s size, which is one of the core elements of defining food deserts in general.)